History of Europe

In the footsteps of the Roman battle on the Harzhorn

Archaeologists have already found more than 2,700 individual parts on the Harzhorn.

It was amateur archaeologists who discovered rusty iron bolts on the Harzhorn in southern Lower Saxony in 2000. They suspected the potential value of their find and submitted it to experts for appraisal. A little later it was clear:The iron bolts from the forest between Bad Gandersheim and Kalefeld belong to so-called Scorpio catapults - firearms of the Roman legions. The find put the history of the Romans in Germania in a new light. Thousands of artefacts have since been unearthed on the Harzhorn. An information center and a visitor path classify the finds historically.

History is being rewritten

Display boards provide information about the events around 1,800 years ago.

Until the discoveries on the Harzhorn, historians had assumed that the Romans had not undertaken any major campaigns into the interior of Germany since their defeat in the Varus Battle in 9 AD and the vendettas of Germanicus in the years 14 to 16.

However, coin finds show that the battle in southern Lower Saxony must have taken place at the time of the Roman Emperor Maximinus Thrax, who was waging war against the Germans around 225 to around 240 AD. Archaeologists also found arrowheads used by Syrian archers. These came from occupied provinces and served as mercenaries in the Roman legion. It is recorded from the time of Maximinus Thrax that he used Moorish spear throwers and Syrian archers around 235. The Battle of the Harzhorn is therefore dated to these years.

At least 1,000 Roman fighters

One ax has "LEG IIII" engraved on it, among other characters that are difficult to decipher.

So far, archaeologists have found more than 2,700 individual parts during excavations on an area measuring around 1,000 by 500 meters:horse sandals, tent pegs, chariot parts, lances, spearheads and other weapons. The inscription on a Roman ax provided an important clue as to which association was fighting against the Germans:"LEG IIII". This stands for the fourth legion of the Romans. The unit almost certainly came from Singidunum, modern-day Belgrade, according to archaeologists.

Coin finds helped narrow down the timing of the battle.

At that time, at least 1,000 legionnaires marched up the mountainside on the Harzhorn. They came from the north and were on their way back to the Rhine. The Germans were probably lying in wait for them in an ambush. The Harzhorn site is at the top of a ridge running from west to east. The steep slopes are only passable in a few places. Partly the pass is only 300 meters wide. Germans could have waited there for the Roman enemies. Archaeologists discover a particularly large number of finds on the main ridge of the mountain.

Battle positions still visible

Teutons attacked with such spearheads, among other things, but were ultimately defeated.

The battlefield is so well preserved that individual battle sections can be understood, such as the impact of targeted volleys of arrows or individual infantry attacks. Nevertheless, many questions remain unanswered. What was the aim of the Roman operation so far north? Was it a vendetta? Should the Germans be intimidated?

Thanks to their superior weapons technology, the Romans may have managed to fight their way free. Their Scorpio catapults had a high penetrating power. The bolts could destroy wooden palisades and metal armor at a distance of a good 120 meters - a very effective weapon at the time. The researchers assume that there was no clear winner in the battle:the Germans took booty, the Romans retreated in the direction of the Leine Valley without major losses.